, Salem, MA

October 21, 2013

Christensen gets 15 to 20 years in slaying of Beverly man

Julie Manganis

---- — The young man convicted of manslaughter earlier this month in the 2011 stabbing death of a Beverly man was sentenced this morning to 15 to 20 years in state prison.

Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead said his concern about Sajan "Sage" Christensen's unresolved anger over childhood abuse led to the term.

Christensen, 20, had been facing a first-degree murder charge in the March 17, 2011 death of James "J.P." Vernazzaro, but was found guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter earlier this month.

Christensen offered an apology to the family of Vernazzaro, but maintained that it was an accident.

Prosecutors had sought the 15- to 20-year sentence, calling the actions of Christensen and his co-defendant, Adam Martin, then 17, a "concerted attack" on an unarmed and inebriated Vernazzaro.

Christensen's attorney, Raymond Buso, sought a shorter prison term of six to 12 years, citing Christensen's background, which included neglect and abuse by his birth parents in Ukraine, more abuse in a Russian orphanage and then his adoption by a suspected pedophile.

But that background, and Christensen's small size and youthful appearance, "does not give one a license to kill," said the judge.

Prior to trial, Christensen had rejected an offer from the prosecution and the judge to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a 12- to 15-year sentence, the same deal accepted by the co-defendant.

For more on this story see tomorrow's Salem News and